The human rights of Ahmadis

Under ordinary circumstances, it sounds strange for a government to establish such a ministry. But in our context, it is absolutely necessary

Imran Khan has been elected as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan. He has inspired regular  Pakistanis everywhere, and as an Ahmadi of Pakistani origin, I welcome his government and expect improved progress within the nation during his tenure. He has appointed his cabinet and Dr Shireen Mazari has been given the portfolio of the Human Rights ministry.

Under ordinary circumstances, it sounds strange for a government to establish such a ministry. But in our context, it is absolutely necessary. Ahmadis have been at the receiving end of intimidation, mob violence, demolition of worship places, destruction of businesses, societal discrimination and murders in Pakistan. It is always convenient for our leaders and Ministers to talk about the track record of foreign nations over their human rights issues, while ignoring problems within the state. Even though I do share some of the same concerns, like over the provocative Dutch cartoons inciting Muslims across Europe, the cruelties meted out by Indian Armed forces against the people of Kashmir, the plight of Palestinians and Burmese Rohingyas, as well as conflict in Yemen and Syria, I also believe that by dealing with Pakistan’s own internal issues, by empowering our minority communities, and ensuring basic human rights for all, we can become a beacon for the world to follow.

Dr Mazari is an expert in political science and history and I would like to respectfully remind her that the past is full of instances of human rights violations by one powerful community against another. During the medieval ages, acts of oppression and torture took pace under the guise of Christianity, which led to Jews being burnt alive in their homes during the black death and even the Spanish Inquisition. St Augustine called it ‘righteous persecution which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious’. This statement has striking parallels with the rhetoric Ahmadis face in their day to day lives in Pakistan.

Today’s Christian historians admit that this ‘righteous persecution’, inflicted in Christ’s name, was a disgrace to the Church. Countless helpless women were put to death because they were said to be witches, and humanity in Europe sunk to indescribable depths, eventually leading to the great World Wars.

Both World Wars had a toll of over 60 million dead and this included the systematic and brutal mass murder of 6 million Jews and other minorities in Europe. This occurred only 75 years ago. This undue violence had a deep impact on the world, and Pakistan was no exception.  The mass migration of 1947 led to the creation of a new nation for the disenfranchised Muslim community. Now it is time for  PTI to ensure this dream comes true for all minorities in the country.

The mass migration of 1947 led to the creation of a new nation for the disenfranchised Muslim community. Now it is time for PTI to ensure this dream comes true for all minorities in the country

I urge Dr Mazari to visit Rabwah and meet the Ahmadi leadership and members of the Ahmadi community to understand the issues facing them today. There are many members who migrated from other parts of the country for refuge, after facing persecution.

The oppression against Ahmadis is not an imaginative phenomenon. The hateful incitements by the religious clergy and the anti-Ahmadi laws create an atmosphere of coercion against the community. Society has been radicalised in the past four decades, and hate speech against Ahmadis is growing by every passing day, with many using it for political leverage or influence. This environment has a very serious impact on the day to day lives of Ahmadis in Pakistan, who are more often than not, just trying to live out their lives in peace.

These hateful incitements rile up sections of society who take the law in to their own hands and resort to vigilante justice. As Pakistanis everywhere celebrated Eid ul Azha, Ahmadis were barred from sacrificing animals on the pretext of violating Pakistan Penal Code 298 B and 298 C. Trivial disputes are used as excuse to invoke vigilantism. I must remind the readers the text of PPC 298 C, it states:

“Any person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name), who directly or indirectly, poses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

The last line sums up the intent of these laws. It provides unhindered provocation to the religious clergy to unleash their anger against Ahmadis with or without the assistance of law enforcement agencies. The Police are frequently known to side with the perpetrators committing such hostilities against Ahmadis.

There is a long list of cases, punishments, jail terms, murders and migrations from Pakistan due to these laws. I urge Dr Mazari to reconsider this law and persuade her colleagues and the Prime Minister to repeal it. I believe the good will garnered by the Prime Minister can create a momentum for positive change. I hope the PTI government will pay heed and the desire for a just society will enable such debate.

Ahmadis as individuals and as a community have a lot to offer this nation due to their loyalty, commitment, higher literacy rate and collective pursuit of professional education. It will be Pakistan’s gain to re-think the hateful religiosity and rather engage in quest for a fairer society for all sections of the nation.

The writer is an engineering management professional working as a senior project manager in a technology company in Australia and is also a volunteer for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. He can be contacted on Twitter @imranahsanmirza

Published in Daily Times, August 26th 2018.